How Honey Can Help with Coughs and Colds

woman putting honey into herbal tea

The months of September through April are considered to be the prime season for catching a cold. They’re more common during these months, likely because: 

  • People spend more time indoors in close proximity to others (including children in school who share germs with many more kids than they do during the summer).
  • When humidity and temperatures drop, the viruses that cause the common cold spread more easily.
  • Our nasal passages are drier during the winter months, which lets viruses latch on and make us more sick than the spring and summer. 

An old-time remedy, honey can be quite soothing and may even reduce symptoms of upper respiratory infections, according to BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine. It has antimicrobial properties, and researchers say it’s a safe way to address symptoms from the common cold.

Honey is not safe for children under one year. Honey can contain Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium found in soil. Babies’ digestive systems are too immature to handle these types of spores, and exposure can lead to bacteria growing and producing toxins in the intestinal tract. This can cause muscle weakness and breathing problems, and requires immediate medical attention. 

While more research needs to be done, one study of 139 children found that honey did a better job of suppressing nighttime coughs and improving sleep than a popular cough medicine. It forms a soothing film over the throat, reducing inflammation and irritation. 

Researchers encourage doctors to recommend honey to patients instead of prescribing antibiotics, which can cause side effects and also lead to antibiotic resistance if used too much.  

Honey isn’t a cure for the common cold, but it may help lessen symptoms and promote healing. And in addition to being easy to find and inexpensive, it poses no risk of drug interaction, which could be a concern with some over-the-counter cough and cold medications. 

If you find yourself sniffling, coughing, or battling a sore throat, try using honey (just be mindful of the added sugar and calories). Start with 1–2 teaspoons—either by itself, in warm water, spread on toast, or mixed with herbal tea.

Good luck this cold season. If a virus does find you, don’t forget to stay hydrated and get lots of rest (in addition to using the honey).